The modern pet dog has it made. They have a comfortable place to sleep, food that they don’t have to hunt for, toys to play with, and people who massage and love them on a daily basis.
What more could a dog want?
I have been seeing a concerning trend where well-meaning people are replacing their presence in their dog’s life with other dogs by
· Sending their dog to daycare
· Going to dog parks
· Getting a second dog for their dog to play with
· Searching for dog playmates on social media
· Having dog birthday parties
If your dog is reactive or shy around dogs, these socialization activities can do more harm than good. It undermines the trust that you have developed with your dog by putting them in situations that they feel are threatening. It can be quite traumatic for an underconfident dog to be bombarded with other dogs, even if those other dogs have playful intentions. Click here to learn more about why I don’t recommend dog parks.
Some dogs are social butterflies that enjoy social contact with other dogs, but many are not. This is largely to do with their age, socialization history, and genetic predispositions. This sociability chart highlights the fact that a large number of dogs are hardwired to NOT be friendly with other dogs.
The good news is that this does not mean that you can’t help your dog learn to peacefully co-exist around another dog, calmly walk past other dogs on walks, and take them to pet-friendly establishments (pet-friendly stores, restaurant patios, etc.)! Teaching your dog to be calm around other dogs is an important life skill that will allow you to do more with your dog because what your dog really wants is a fulfilling relationship with YOU!
Some dogs can safely enjoy interactions with other dogs, but most dogs are happiest when they have opportunities to connect with YOU. In fact, some dogs ONLY bond with one person or with those that live in their household (guardian breeds...I'm calling you out here!).
All dogs benefit from learning how to be calm and co-exist around dogs in a controlled setting. This means that they should be able to walk past other dogs without barking, lunging, trying to play, or shying away. If you want to help your dog become more confident and happier around other dogs, sometimes the best solution is to set boundaries around other dogs and teach them to ignore other dogs.
In fact, dogs will show other dogs that they want to avoid conflict by ignoring each other! If you are in a room or park full of dogs, the kindest thing that you can do for your dog is to help them ignore other dogs and to encourage others to do the same.
If your dog doesn’t know how to be calm around other dogs yet, you can start by exposing your dog to other dogs at a distance. Each dog has their own tolerance threshold, meaning that some dogs will be calm when they are 10ft away from a dog, while others need to be a football field away in order to feel calm. When your dog is under threshold, they should be able to focus on you and respond to commands that they know, and they should barely notice the other dog. With time and practice, you will be able to get closer and closer to other dogs. If you are in a situation where your dog is about to overreact, try to walk your dog out of that situation BEFORE the behavior starts. This will keep your dog in a calmer state of mind, and it will prevent those outbursts from occurring in the first place. With the right training, I believe that every dog can learn to co-exist around other dogs so you can take your dog out of the house stress-free!
If your dog struggles around other dogs, let me know and I would be more than happy to help! I train in Chicago IL and the surrounding areas. I love teaching people about dog body language, and the difference between appropriate/inappropriate play for their dog. I love it when a dog’s quality of life improves because they are no longer frustrated, fearful, or aggressive when they see other dogs on walks.